Reimagining Traitors: Pearl Abraham's American Taliban and the Case of John Walker Lindh

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            Reimagining Traitors: Pearl
            Abraham’s American Taliban and
            the Case of John Walker Lindh

            Pearl Abraham’s  novel American Taliban uses the “true” story of John Walker Lindh, a
            white US citizen captured fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan in , to reflect on the
            intense mediation of public trauma in the early days of the “War on Terror.” This article dis-
            cusses the significance of American Taliban as a post-“/” work of literary fiction which,
            by imagining individual agency and interrogating the relationship between a racialized
            “Americanness,” treason and sovereignty, invites its readers to be critical of historical, political
            and media narratives in the so-called “post-truth era.”

            At the beginning of December , in a segment of Comedy Central’s The
            Daily Show titled “Operation Enduring Coverage,” American political satirist
            Jon Stewart challenged his viewers to “try wrapping [their] spinning heads
            around this one: meet twenty-year-old John Walker [Lindh], an American
            citizen turned Taliban soldier, recently captured after the prison uprising in
            Mazar-e-Sharif.” Stewart was joined by American humorist Maurice “Mo”
            Rocca, who satirized Lindh’s biography as “a recipe for radical Islamic funda-
            mentalism. An intelligent child, growing up with not one loving parent, but
            two loving parents, a family that’s making that difficult transition from
            upper middle class to lower upper class … it’s textbook, Jon.” Both

            Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, University of Essex. Email: mpopes@
                Jon Stewart, “Operation Enduring Coverage: John Walker Lindh,” The Daily Show with
                Jon Stewart on Comedy Central,  Dec. , atdcw/the-
                daily-show-with-jon-stewart-operation-enduring-coverage---john-walker-lindh, accessed 
                Oct. .
                Jon Stewart and Maurice Alberto “Mo” Rocca, “Operation Enduring Coverage: Privileged
                Upbringing?”, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central,  Dec. , at www.
                privileged-upbringing, accessed  Oct. .

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Reimagining Traitors 
            Stewart and Rocca play with the common misconceptions surrounding the
            “un-American Other,” who, in the post-“/” imagination, takes the shape
            of the “Islamic extremist” or “terrorist”; a necessarily repugnant figure, the
            “terrorist” appears as socially inept, a loner with reduced intellect and inferior
            education, originating from a broken family and an impoverished economic
            background. The Daily Show segment identifies the American public’s confu-
            sion when they were confronted with the paradox of an “all-American Other”
            soon after the beginning of the “War on Terror”: a white, young, Californian
            man from a wealthy, liberal family who was captured fighting for the
            Taliban – which, in the polarizing discourse of the Bush administration, was
            synonymous with fighting for Osama bin Laden himself.
               This early post-“/” confusion, amplified by the swift military response
            ambiguously named the “War on Terror,” brought into question the nature of
            “home” and belonging in the US. Literary critic Richard Gray alludes to the
            imaginary “Homeland” onto which US citizens were dislocated when he
            argues that, post-“/,” “Americans find themselves living in an interstitial
            space,” caught between “the culture(s) of the nation and the culture of the
            global marketplace,” a space made more radical by the “encounter with terrorism
            and the experience of counter terrorism.” Since the attacks, post-“/”
            American literature has been negotiating these encounters and attempting to
            diagnose the nature of the crisis in various ways. The consensus in “/” literary
            studies is that early novels, such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and
            Incredibly Close and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, although signifi-
            cant in the American literary landscape in their own ways, failed to abandon
            the exceptionalist lens which emerged in the immediate aftermath of the
            attacks. Gray is critical of such early literary “responses to crisis” because they
            failed, he argues, both formally and politically, to imagine survival after “the
            end of the world” without giving in to the “seductive pieties of home, hearth
            and family” and to “the equally seductive myth of American exceptionalism” –

                  Following from Jacques Derrida’s assertion that “when you say ‘September ’ you are
                  already citing” (Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with
                  Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago
                  Press, ), ), throughout this essay I will use the label “/” inside quotation marks.
                  President George Bush Jr., Joint Session of Congress,  Sept. : “We condemn the
                  Taliban regime. It is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere
                  by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists. By aiding and abetting murder, the
                  Taliban regime is committing murder … The Taliban must act, and act immediately.
                  They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.” At www.theguardian.
                  com/world//sep//september.usa, accessed  Oct. .
                  Richard Gray, After the Fall: American Literature since / (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell,
                  ), .
                  Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Boston, MA: Houghton
                  Mifflin, ); Claire Messud, The Emperor’s Children (New York: Knopf, ).

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 Maria-Irina Popescu
            and, implicitly, without dissolving “public crisis in the comforts of the personal.”
                If, as Paul Petrovic argues, early fictional responses to “/” “occasionally
            silenced instances of political resistance and overly fetishized national victim-
            hood,” towards the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century the “/
            ” novel started undergoing a generic transition embodied in stories told
            through “a more pluralistic and ambiguous lens.” Later “/” novels incorp-
            orate wider sociohistorical contexts of key events within more inclusive para-
            digms of representation containing elements of “the fantastical, the allegorical,
            the ethnic, and the international.” “Second-wave” “/” novels, such as
            Shaila Abdullah’s Saffron Dreams, Giannina Braschi’s United States of
            Banana, and Cara Hoffman’s Be Safe I Love You, complicate the early “/
            ” literary canon by moving away from the American-exceptionalist lens of
            victimhood and marginalization and towards a multiplicity of (possibly dispar-
            ate) cultural perspectives – including military involvement in the “War on
            Terror,” immigrant experience and identity, and the empire as a dominant
            presence in the American imaginary. Another “wave” emerging out of the
            – period has been suggested by critics like Richard Gray and Elleke
            Boehmer, who noted the new postcolonial context made visible particularly
            by Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant
            Fundamentalist; according to Gray, the novels pursue a “strategy of deterritor-
            ialization” which, “instead of stressing the opposition between, say, First and
            Third Worlds, West and East, the colonizer and the colonized, [concentrates]
            on the faultlines themselves, on border situations and thresholds as the sites
            where identities are performed and contested.” Elleke Boehmer calls for a
            rethinking of terrorism as the postcolony’s act of resistance to the “colonial
            formations of sovereignty, policing, and surveillance” and argues that “the
            history of neoliberal globalization and America’s place within it” are “inextric-
            ably entwined” with what Hamid notes as the imperialist agenda of the “War
            on Terror.”
                In this article, I examine Pearl Abraham’s  American Taliban, a novel
            which expands the “true” story of John Walker Lindh into a reflection on the

                  Gray, .
                  Paul Petrovic (ed.), Representing /: Trauma, Ideology, and Nationalism in Literature,
                  Film, and Television (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, ), x–xi.               Ibid., x.
                  Ibid., x–xvii; Shaila Abdullah, Saffron Dreams (Ann Arbor, MI: Modern History Press,
                  ); Giannina Braschi, United States of Banana (Seattle: AmazonCrossing, ); Cara
                  Hoffman, Be Safe I Love You (New York: Simon & Schuster, ).
                  Gray, , ; Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (San Diego, CA: Harcourt,
                  ); Joseph O’Neill, Netherland (New York: Harper Perennial, ).
                  Elleke Boehmer and Stephen Morton (eds.), Terror and the Postcolonial (Chichester: Wiley-
                  Blackwell, ), , .

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Reimagining Traitors 
            intense mediation of public trauma in a post-“/” world. The text’s the-
            matic concerns both echo and complicate the early post-“/” novel’s generic
            propensity towards familial crisis. By highlighting themes such as the broken
            contract between the individual and the state, the problematic equivalence
            between “whiteness” and “innocence,” and the imperialist agenda of the
            “War on Terror,” American Taliban destabilizes the myth of American excep-
            tionalism and subscribes to the categories which define the later stages of the
            post-“/” novel. With its focus on the interplay between fact and fiction,
            mythology and history, and state fantasy and resistance, Abraham’s novel is
            a timely warning against the oversimplifying discourses of the so-called
            “post-truth era”; the text asks what it means to be “American,” “un-
            American” or “anti-American,” and it encourages the reader to be critical of
            historical, political and media narratives. Within the post-“/” literary
            genre, American Taliban is innovative in its portrayal of the “all-white
            American” homegrown “terrorist,” a gesture of resistance against the discourse
            of white American innocence, victimhood and exceptionalism. As the point of
            origin for the as-yet endless “War on Terror,” in itself a product of the inter-
            play between fact and fiction, the “/” moment continues to dominate con-
            temporary discourses. As John Duvall and Robert Marzec argue, post-“/”
            literature matters because, “by imagining individual and political agency, con-
            temporary narrative maps the fantasies that mediate the everyday experience of
            empire and at curious moments extends an invitation for us to think historic-
            ally.” Works of post-“/” literary fiction such as American Taliban con-
            tinue to resist these processes of mythologization and historical revisionism
            used to justify the United States’ imperialist agenda through stories that desta-
            bilize racial hierarchies and privileged viewpoints.

                              MEDIA NARRATIVES
            John Walker Lindh was captured on  December , following the violent
            confrontation in the Qala-i-Jangi fortress outside Mazar-e-Sharif between
            Northern Alliance troops, supported by US forces, and Taliban prisoners of
            war. As the first white-skinned American captured since the start of the
            “War on Terror,” Lindh became a liability for the Department of Justice
            and his story was singled out and widely reported in the mainstream media
            upon his return to the US. A Nexis search stretching from  September

                  Pearl Abraham, American Taliban (New York: Random House, ).
                  John N. Duvall and Robert P. Marzec (eds.), Narrating /: Fantasies of State, Security, and
                  Terrorism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, ), .

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 Maria-Irina Popescu
             until  May  in US newspapers returns  results featuring John
            Walker Lindh’s name in headlines and lead paragraphs; in contrast, the
            other US citizen captured at Qala-i-Jangi, Yaser Hamdi, a Saudi American
            born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was virtually invisible in US mainstream
            media, appearing only thirteen times in a search with the same parameters.
            John Lindh became the object of fascination, the “bad white” of Westerns
            who, despite failing to fully “attain whiteness” because of his association
            with nonwhite Others, nevertheless reasserts the complexity of white
               Lindh’s capture led to the rapid growth of two media narratives: one in
            which he was the supervillain, an American “traitor,” and an “enemy
            within,” and another in which he was a sweet, innocent, patriotic American
            boy who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Initially,
            Lindh was taken to a nearby hospital, where, after receiving first aid and mor-
            phine, he was interviewed and filmed without his consent by CNN journalist
            Robert Young Pelton. Two carefully selected minutes of footage were broad-
            cast via satellite the next day; the image of this dirty, bearded, long-haired,
            wounded and incoherent American prisoner of war was shown on television
            screens across the country confessing, “my heart became attached to [the
            Taliban].” Lindh’s words were framed and delivered to the public as an
            admission of treason and as a pledge of allegiance to the most dangerous
            enemy of the US, Osama bin Laden. The day after the broadcast of
            Pelton’s two-minute interview teaser, John Lindh’s father Frank also appeared
            on CNN, on the talk show Larry King Live, where he inaugurated this second
            public narrative by describing his son as “nothing … other than a kid, a boy
            really, who converted to a religion that I respect and seemed very healthy and
            good for him.” The New York Post oscillated between the two narratives and

                  Nexis search on “John Walker Lindh” in Headlines & Lead Paragraphs in US Newspapers,
                  custom dates:  Sept. – May , at/sr?sr=%%
                  nonLatinChars=true&crth=off, accessed  May .
                  Nexis search on “Yaser Hamdi” in Headlines & Lead Paragraphs in US Newspapers,
                  custom dates:  Sept. – May , at/sr?sr=%%
                  hct=f&nonLatinChars=true&crth=off, accessed  May .
                  Richard Dyer, White (London and New York: Routledge, ), .
                  Abraham, .
                  “Transcript of John Walker Interview,” CNN,  July , at
                  /WORLD/asiapcf/central///ret.walker.transcript, accessed  Aug. .
                  Justin Pritchard, “Attorney of ‘American Taliban’ Held in Afghanistan Releases Letter to
                  Family,” Associated Press,  Dec. , at

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Reimagining Traitors 
            called Lindh a “sweet American kid” one day and a “US rat” the next. USA
            Today dubbed Lindh a “self-proclaimed holy warrior for the Taliban,” whilst
            the Daily News published a scathing piece on the online presence of the “turn-
            coat Yank.” Partisan media picked their battles on both sides of the Atlantic,
            with left-wing, liberal broadsheet newspapers such as The New York Times,
            The Washington Post and The Guardian joining Lindh’s parents’ cause by
            publishing articles and opinion pieces advocating leniency in the case and
            lobbying for the presidential pardon as recently as the last year of the
            Obama administration.
               Although problematic and elastic, the labels “American,” “un-American,”
            and “anti-American” indicate the type of identity assigned to an individual
            in a discourse or narrative, and they speak of the individual’s place in the hier-
            archical structure created by said discourse or narrative. The meaning of these
            descriptors depends on the ideological and mythological framework from
            which they originate. In the Lindh case, the meaning of the label
            “American” emerges from the media narratives on both conservative and
            liberal sides of the argument. Whether portrayed as a “traitor” or as a
            “patriot,” Lindh is discussed within a framework in which “Americanness”
            coincides with whiteness. In an article from , Sean Brayton analyses the
            connotations associated with “race” in Time magazine’s coverage of the case
            and identifies Lindh’s conversion to Islam as a turning point in the media nar-
            rative. Lindh is afforded a type of “discursive redemption” in the shape of

                  lni=N-DKM-F-RJJ&csi=&oc=&perma=true, accessed  March
                  Cathy Burke, “How ‘Sweet’ American Kid Joined Taliban,” New York Post,  Dec. , at
                  &perma=true, accessed  March .
                  John Lehmann and Niles Lathem, “U.S. Rat Gets Grilled as Two More Surface,” New York
                  Post,  Dec. , atKX-FVF-R-
                  FNB&csi=&oc=&perma=true, accessed  March .
                  Martin Kasindorf and Jon Swartz, “Calif. Man’s Capture as Taliban Fighter Stuns Family,”
                  USA Today,  Dec. , atKG-
                  BWS-F-KK&csi=&oc=&perma=true, accessed  March .
                  Helen Kennedy, “Internet Traces His Path to Taliban: Turncoat Yank’s Switch from Hip-Hop
                  Fan to Islam,” Daily News,  Dec. , at
                  lni=MY-DVP-T-GGT&csi=&oc=&perma=true, accessed  March
                  See, for example, Frank Lindh, “America’s ‘Detainee ’: The Persecution of John Walker
                  Lindh,” The Guardian,  July , at/jul//john-
                  walker-lindh-american-taliban-father, accessed  Aug. ; Jane Mayer, “Lost in the
                  Jihad,” New Yorker,  March , at///lost-
                  in-the-jihad, accessed  May ; and Paul Theroux, “Pardon the American Taliban,”
                  New York Times,  Oct. , at///opinion/sunday/
                  pardon-the-american-taliban.html, accessed  May .

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 Maria-Irina Popescu
            nostalgic stories about his “regular” childhood in a mythologized all-white,
            middle-class, Christian American suburbia – a story of redemption refused
            to racialized Others such as Yaser Hamdi. In narratives about his upbringing,
            Lindh is distanced from American Muslims racially and geographically and
            portrayed within the parameters of an “unthreatening, unassuming,” and
            ultimately “innocent” whiteness. Mary K. Bloodsworth-Lugo and Carmen
            R. Lugo-Lugo argue that a similar discursive “whitening” is employed in
            Lindh’s sentencing memorandum, where “racially-coded descriptors used by
            [expert witnesses such as Rohan Gunaratna] were employed strategically to
            detach Lindh from other enemy combatants suspected to be terrorists.”
            Through these stories set in a mythologized, racially exclusive, pre-“/”
            nation, media discourses such as the one produced by Time magazine effec-
            tively rewrite the boundaries of the US as “quintessentially white.”
               As Anne R. Slifkin argues in an insightful  article, the Lindh case is a
            good example of collaboration between the political and journalistic discourses
            with the purpose of focussing “public attention” by “giving high-priority
            coverage” to a story through news and talk shows. Slifkin aptly notes that
            both sides of the debate were problematic and oversimplified: the liberal
            media promoted the idea that a white, upper-middle-class young man could
            be nothing but profoundly innocent, whereas the conservative media called
            Lindh a “traitor” prior to the trial and without substantial proof. Right-
            wing publications, from USA Today to the Daily News, acted as a mouthpiece
            for the political discourse of the Bush administration by explicitly portraying
            Lindh as a high-profile “traitor,” especially prior to his indictment on
             February . Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York City, said, “I
            believe the death penalty would be an appropriate remedy to consider …
            But I don’t know all the legal issues involved,” a statement which was reported
            by the Daily News under the headline “Rudy: Death if He’s Traitor; Says
            Evidence Suggests Taliban Yank’s Guilty.” The same newspaper reported
            Attorney General John Ashcroft’s statement about trying to build a case of

                  Sean Brayton, “An American Werewolf in Kabul: John Walker Lindh, the Construction of
                  ‘Race’, and the Return to Whiteness,” International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics,
                  ,  (), –, –.                                                    Ibid., .
                  Mary K. Bloodsworth-Lugo and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, Containing (Un)American Bodies
                  (Amsterdam: Rodopi, ), .                                               Brayton, .
                  Anne R. Slifkin, “John Walker Lindh,” South Atlantic Quarterly, ,  (Spring ), –
                  , .                                                                        Ibid., .
                  Bill Hutchinson, “Rudy: Death if He’s Traitor; Says Evidence Suggests Taliban Yank’s
                  Guilty,” Daily News,  Dec. , at
                  lni=P-KPX-T-GB&csi=&oc=&perma=true, accessed  March

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Reimagining Traitors 
            treason as “Turncoat Could Get Death Penalty, Ashcroft Says.” Although,
            in Giuliani’s case, the Daily News reported an exaggerated version of a per-
            sonal, albeit overzealous, opinion, Ashcroft’s statement suggested the
            Department of Justice’s intention to hold Lindh responsible for the death
            of Johnny “Mike” Spann, a CIA officer killed during the Qala-i-Jangi confron-
            tation. The first American combat fatality in the “War on Terror,” Spann was
            hailed by the CIA director, George Tenet, as “an American hero” and
            inscribed in myth by Time’s Alex Perry’s Hollywood-style account of the
            Qala-i-Jangi “battle.” Given Spann’s reputation, Lindh was, indeed,
            charged with conspiring “to kill nationals of the United States.”
               Historical narratives of the confrontation are by no means more straightfor-
            ward than their media equivalents. A month after the Operation Enduring
            Freedom bombing campaign in Afghanistan started, the Northern Alliance
            troops captured Mazar-e-Sharif; Taliban troops lost control of major cities
            and thousands of fighters surrendered at Yerganak, where they were disarmed
            and loaded into trucks. Around five hundred prisoners, including Lindh,
            were taken to Qala-i-Jangi to be interrogated by American intelligence
            agents; the remaining prisoners were stripped, tied up and locked into airtight
            truck containers headed for the Sheberghan prison. Accounts of the surrender
            and transportation of Taliban prisoners are incomplete and raise questions
            about American military involvement in practices that breach human rights,
            and US accountability regarding their allies’ conduct in the “War on
               The statements widely disseminated in the mainstream media prior to
            Lindh’s trial contributed to the creation of a hostile environment and
            helped the Bush administration legitimize and normalize torture in the case

                  Corky Siemaszko and Richard Sisk, “Turncoat Could Get Death Penalty, Ashcroft Says,”
                  Daily News,  Jan. , atXM-
                  CD-T-GB&csi=&oc=&perma=true, accessed  March .
                  Vian Bakir, Torture, Intelligence and Sousveillance in the War on Terror: Agenda-Building
                  Struggles (Farnham: Ashgate, ), . George Tenet, quoted in Duncan Campbell and
                  Luke Harding, “CIA Agent Named as First American Fatality Killed at Beginning of
                  Prisoner Revolt,” The Guardian,  Nov. , at/
                  nov//afghanistan.duncancampbell, accessed  Aug. . Alex Perry, “The Battle of
                  Qala-i-Jangi,” Time,  Dec. , at
                  ,,-,.html, accessed  March .
                  United States of America v. John Philip Walker Lindh [], Indictment (US District
                  Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Crim. No. --A,  Feb. ), at http://
        cmp.html, accessed  March .
                  John Barry, “The Death Convoy of Afghanistan,” Newsweek,  Aug. , at http://
        , accessed  Aug. .
                  Ibid.; see also James Risen, “US Inaction Seen after Taliban POWs Died,” New York Times,
                   July , at///world/asia/afghan.html, accessed 
                  Aug. ; and Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death (dir. Jamie Doran, ProbeTV, ).

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 Maria-Irina Popescu
            of suspected “terrorists.” John Lindh was allegedly tortured by the US mili-
            tary for fifty-four days before landing on American soil. At Camp Rhino,
            where Lindh was held in a shipping container, military personnel took two pic-
            tures of him, one showing the prisoner naked, blindfolded and tied to a
            stretcher; the other showing five soldiers surrounding Lindh, whose blindfold
            bears the inscription “shithead.” Lindh’s lawyers released both pictures to the
            public as soon as they were granted access to them in April , although the
            “shithead” photo is no longer in the public domain. Peter Jan Honigsberg
            notes that, although Lindh was mistreated, he was eventually “provided
            with access to [his] attorneys and the due process protections necessary for
            meaningful hearings,” which “demonstrates that the administration could
            have done it right for all detainees.” The high-profile character of this case
            resulted in a harsh conviction for John Lindh, but it also saved him from
            becoming what Donald E. Pease identifies as the “exception to the human con-
            dition” or, in Giorgio Agamben’s words, the “legally un-nameable and unclas-
            sifiable being” created by the USA Patriot Act. From a legal standpoint,
            despite initial interference, Lindh was afforded due process as a US citizen.
            In the media, however misrepresented, he was always recognized as
            “American,” because his whiteness rendered him visible in political, legal
            and media discourses.

                   “AMERICAN,” “ANTI-AMERICAN” OR “UN-AMERICAN”?
            The anxiety triggered by Lindh’s conversion from “American citizen” to
            “Taliban soldier” is traceable back to Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis of the
            “clash of civilizations” between the “West” and the “East.” Writing
            shortly after the end of the Cold War, Huntington locates “a central focus
            of conflict for the immediate future” in the “clash” between the “West”
            and “Islamic–Confucian states.” David Holloway notes that the thesis
            became popular after “/” as a “reassuring abstraction” which verged on
            “outright romanticism” in its appeal to “an essential selfhood rooted in

                                                                                           
                  Bakir, –.                                                                  Ibid., –.
                  Peter Jan Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on
                  Terror (Berkeley: University of California Press, ), .
                  Donald E. Pease, The New American Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
                  Press, ), ; Giorgio Agamben, States of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: The
                  University of Chicago Press, ; first published ), –.
                  Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, ,  (Summer ),
                  –; and Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
                  (New York: Simon & Schuster, ).
                  Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?”, .

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Reimagining Traitors 
            collective, ‘blood’-based notions of identity.” For the general public, the
            phrase “clash of civilizations” appeared to simplify the incomprehensible
            domestic and international context of the s and rendered it more manage-
            able. Huntington’s preference for binaries appealed not only to American
            television (and to a President eager to attract fresh blood for the US military
            in preparation for an open-ended “War on Terror”), but also to Osama bin
            Laden – USA’s number one enemy post-“/.”
               The “West/Islam” binary distilled from Huntington’s thesis became, in the
            aftermath of the  September  attacks, the foundation for a contract
            between the American state and US citizens famously summarized by
            President Bush as “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
            To explore such contracts, Donald E. Pease introduced the concept of
            “state fantasy” into the field of American studies; building on Jacqueline
            Rose’s work of the correlations between states and fantasy in political
            theory, Pease repurposed the concept of “state fantasy” to discuss the relation-
            ship between citizens and the symbolic order inaugurated by the political struc-
            tures in power since the end of the Cold War. Pease defines “state fantasy” as
            “the dominant structure of desire out of which US citizens imagined their
            national identity,” and persuasively argues that “American exceptionalism”
            was the fantasy which regulated the relationship between citizens and the
            “Cold War state” between  and . The  September 
            attacks provided a definitive conclusion to the Cold War and allowed the
            Bush administration to inaugurate a new symbolic order at the “Ground
            Zero” site and implicitly a new state fantasy, the “Homeland” – a state of
            emergency and exception which “required the public to sacrifice their civil lib-
            erties in exchange for the enjoyment of the state’s spectacular violations of the
            rights of other sovereign states.”
               It was American mythology, Pease argues, that provided the “master
            fictions” the President Bush used to validate the state’s actions. Master
            fictions and mythological themes “transmit a normative system of values
            and beliefs from generation to generation” and are used by policymakers to
            shape citizens’ “understanding of political and historical events.” Pease
            maintains that “/” destroyed the “fantasy that the nation was founded

                  David Holloway, / and the War on Terror (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
                  ), –.                                                                       Ibid., .
                  For a detailed exploration of how Huntington’s “clash-of-civilizations” thesis influenced
                  Osama bin Laden please see Al Jazeera’s documentary The / Decade: The Clash of
                  Civilisations? (), Al Jazeera English, at
                  world///.htm, accessed  May .
                  President George Bush Jr., Joint Session of Congress ( Sept. ), at http://edition.cnn.
                  com//US///gen.bush.transcript, accessed  May .                         Pease, .
                                                                                             
                  Ibid., –.                         Ibid., –, .                           Ibid., .

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 Maria-Irina Popescu
            on Virgin Land” and brought back the “suppressed historical knowledge of the
            United States’ origins in the devastation of native peoples’ homelands.” The
            state’s “symbolic response” to “/,” inaugurated by President Bush’s address
            to a joint session of Congress and to the nation on  September ,
            replaced “Virgin Land” with “Ground Zero” and the “Homeland” “as the
            governing metaphors through which to come to terms with the attack”;
            the metaphors started becoming historical facts through the military cam-
            paigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
               The media narrative of an all-white America facilitated by the Lindh case
            constitutes an attempt to revive the Cold War image of a country in which,
            in Pease’s words, “gender, class, race, and ethnic differences were massively
            downgraded as threatening to national unity,” an ideal of national identity
            built “out of exceptionalist norms [which] had deployed the coordinated
            myths of the Frontier and the Melting Pot in which the state’s assimilationist
            paradigm overrode questions of diaspora, cosmopolitanism, and multicultural-
            ism.” It is out of this mythological framework that Lindh’s “anti-American”
            character emerges: his family’s liberal approach to parenting, which afforded
            their son access to a multicultural, multiracial America (at least in virtual envir-
            onments, if the proximity of Lindh’s all-white suburbia did not allow for it),
            coupled with Frank Lindh’s “failed” masculinity (Lindh’s parents’ divorce on
            grounds of Frank’s homosexuality is a recurrent trope in media narratives
            about Lindh’s childhood), is used, in Time articles and in mainstream
            media in general, as overarching causes for Lindh’s “anti-American behav-
            ior.” Lindh’s conversion to Islam during his adolescence is constructed as
            a reaction to these “flaws” in his upbringing – an assumption which implies
            and reasserts his intrinsic “innocence” (i.e. whiteness). Brayton argues that
            Lindh’s harsh sentencing punishes not only legal transgressions, but also a
            “betrayal of whiteness,” a disavowal of “the boundaries of American normativ-
            ity” in a post-“/” US riddled with cultural anxiety. In Lindh’s case, the
            label “anti-American” is necessarily linked to his “Americanness,” to his
            “whiteness,” because it implies a disavowal of the “all-white America” myth
            and of the American exceptionalist fantasy “retroactively assigned to the
            distant origins of America.” As a member of this racially exclusive “Virgin
            Land,” Lindh also complicated the parameters of the newly inaugurated
            “Homeland” state fantasy, which permitted the state of emergency to
            extend its jurisdiction to the entire globe under the pretense of protecting
            an already “displaced” nation from foreign violations.

                                                                                                        
                  Ibid., .                         Ibid., .                                                 Ibid., .
                                                                                                       
                  Brayton, “An American Werewolf,” –.                            Ibid., .                Pease, .
                  Ibid., –.

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Reimagining Traitors 
               Yaser Hamdi’s case is a good example of an “un-American” presence as
            defined within the parameters of the mythological and ideological framework
            of the “Homeland” state fantasy. If, in the media narratives surrounding John
            Walker Lindh, “American” is synonymous with white and “anti-American”
            implies a white American’s disavowal of whiteness, “un-American” is a label
            which describes a presence deviant from this imagined American order. In
            Hamdi’s case, his “un-American” nature is reasserted in the absence of “dis-
            cursive-redemption” narratives in the media, virtually complete invisibility
            both in the media and in the legal system (and, implicitly, the absence of
            due process and the immediate allocation of the “enemy combatant”
            status), and the contesting of his citizenship by civilian groups. Pease identifies
            this “entrenched distinction between white Americans’ governmental belong-
            ing and the passive belonging of minoritized populations” as part of a hierarch-
            ical structure of social rankings, which allows for “ad hoc exemptions from the
            law on the basis of race and cultural difference.” In the post-“/” state of
            emergency, the citizenship of white Americans appears to have priority over
            nonwhite forms of citizenship, especially, as Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-
            Lugo note, over “those already associated with criminality.”
               After being interrogated by American agents and passing various post-
            capture screenings, during which he openly stated his place of birth, Yaser
            Hamdi was sent to Guantánamo Bay in February , where he remained
            for almost three months before officials recognized his US citizenship. He
            was the first American citizen to be declared an “enemy combatant” and he
            was held incommunicado, without access to counsel or to his family, and
            with no charges filed against him. After two years of detention on naval
            brigs in Virginia and South Carolina, a Supreme Court trial, and a plea agree-
            ment with the government in which he consented to renounce his US citizen-
            ship, Hamdi was eventually released and deported to Saudi Arabia. Although
            Lindh and Hamdi were captured at the same time, the latter remained invisible
            to the public eye and was not afforded due process; his story did not kindle the
            media’s imagination to the same extent Lindh’s did.
               Although mostly absent from newspapers, Hamdi’s story did catch the eye
            of a non-profit group, Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement. With a
            mission to prove Hamdi’s “un-Americanness,” the group contested the valid-
            ity of his US citizenship in court. They filed a motion arguing that the
            Fourteenth Amendment does not cover children born from migrants residing
            in the US on temporary work visas (as was the case of Hamdi’s family) – with

                  Ibid., , ,  n. .
                  Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo, Containing (Un)American Bodies, .
                  Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged, -.

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 Maria-Irina Popescu
            the addition that Hamdi was “not an American in any real sense of the
            word.” By contrast, despite his Irish ancestry and refusal to identify
            himself as an American when interrogated by CIA operatives at Qala-i-
            Jangi, Lindh’s own US citizenship never came into question. Put side by
            side, the stories of the two American Taliban prisoners of war captured by
            US troops on  December  could not be more different. Hamdi’s citizen-
            ship was ignored, contested and eventually stripped away after three years of
            incarceration without any charges, because the colour of his skin and his ances-
            try did not match his captors’ idea of what “American” looks like.
               As Pease demonstrates, the constructions of racial or ethnic difference have
            been used historically to underline the American/un-American dichotomy and
            to support structuring metaphors of the American experience, such as “Virgin
            Land” or “Manifest Destiny,” including exceptionalist convictions that the US
            was different from European empires in its refusal to acquire colonies.
            Traumatic historical realities of both domestic and foreign policies disavowed
            from twentieth-century historiography – such as massacres of native popula-
            tions; slavery; lynchings; ethnic cleansing of migrants; the economic exploit-
            ation of refugees; “the struggles of Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian
            groups for recognition of their equal rights”; internment camps for Japanese
            Americans; attacks on civilians in Dresden, Tokyo and My Lai; nuclear holo-
            causts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – tell of the racialized Others onto whom
            the state displaced its “social catastrophes” and of the ways in which the US
            achieved “imperial governance” whilst continuing to define itself in opposition
            to European imperial powers. Lindh’s case complicates these fantasies, not
            only because he needs to be “racialized” in media discourses to appear threa-
            tening, but also because he was captured in the so-called “Middle East,” an
            Othered geographic and symbolic space onto which the state of exception dis-
            placed the trauma of “/.”

            Pearl Abraham uses details of Lindh’s biography to create a narrative inspired
            by the idea of a white-as-universal American identity, or what she calls, in an
            essay detailing the creative process behind writing the American Taliban novel,
            “the American religion,” which starts not with “unknowable jihad, but with
            Emerson and American Transcendentalism, [and] with Whitman’s celebrated

                  “Group Files Motion in U.S.-Born Taliban’s Case; Moves to Have Yaser Hamdi Declared a
                  Non-citizen.” U.S. Newswire,  Aug. , at, accessed  May .
                  Mark Kukis, “My Heart Became Attached”: The Strange Odyssey of John Walker Lindh
                  (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, Inc., ), .                               Pease, .
                  Ibid., , , ,  n. .

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Reimagining Traitors 
            search for the self.” In this seemingly problematic statement, the writer
            claims the universality of a specific “America,” a homogeneous space spiritually
            and culturally inaugurated by white Christian men and historically devoid of
            other belief systems – more specifically, of Islam, swiftly relegated to the status
            of “un-American” through the phrase “unknowable jihad.” However, in
            American Taliban, Abraham uses this imaginary white American space not
            to endorse the Manichean “us-versus-them” discourse of the Bush Doctrine,
            but rather to interrogate and complicate it. By linking individualism or “the
            celebrated search for the self” with this homogeneously white America,
            Abraham recognizes what Richard Gray calls “the challenges to selfhood
            posed by various forms of injustice – the denial of people as individuals
            because they were of the ‘wrong’ race or gender.” The writer demolishes
            Huntington’s “clash-of-civilizations” thesis by locating the source of the
            conflict not in Othered culture, but in the United States’ historical disavowal
            of its “nonwhite” citizens’ individuality and selfhood.
               John Jude Parish, the protagonist of American Taliban, is an able-bodied,
            heterosexual, wealthy white American teenager growing up in a liberal and
            secular nuclear family. He inhabits what Donald Pease identifies as the sym-
            bolic order structured by the myth of the “Virgin Land” associated with the
            national security state of the Cold War and with the American exceptionalism
            state fantasy of the pre-“/” US. Pease traces the origins of the “Virgin
            Land” metaphor, which “refers to a space that coincided with the nation’s pre-
            revolutionary origins wherein European settlers’ grounding assumptions about
            America were inscribed,” to the s, the early days of American studies as an
            academic discipline. The “Virgin Land” metaphor supported American
            exceptionalism by turning the landscape into a “blank space, understood to
            be the ideal surface onto which to inscribe the history of the nation’s
            Manifest Destiny.” In Abraham’s narrative, the protagonist’s worldview,
            motives and actions are fuelled by his faith in the American exceptionalism
            state fantasy. The novel stretches from August  to May , from
            Outer Banks, North Carolina to Islamabad, Pakistan, and, post-“/,” to
            Washington, DC, offering a fictional narrative which charts the transition
            from the “Virgin Land” metaphor of the national security state to the
            “Ground Zero” myth of the Homeland security state.
               In the same essay on “The Making of American Taliban,” Abraham expli-
            citly states her intention to tackle a question she believes has been repeatedly

                  Pearl Abraham, “The Making of American Taliban,”,  Dec. ), at
        , accessed  Sept. .
                  Richard Gray, A History of American Literature, nd edn (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell,
                                                                                          
                  ), .                          Pease, .                             Ibid., .

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 Maria-Irina Popescu
            asked by the American public and tentatively answered by the media: why
            would an educated, wealthy American like Lindh commit to violent jihad?
            Her stated authorial interest lies in approaching the story from a new angle
            by following the protagonist’s spiritual journey from secularism to Islam – a
            task also undertaken by writer Jarett Kobek, who published, a year after the
            release of American Taliban, a fictional re-creation of “/” hijacker
            Mohamed Atta’s life through the lens of architectural theory. Abraham’s
            reflections on her creative process offer a starting point for elucidating the struc-
            ture of American Taliban, a novel which, unlike Kobek’s ATTA or even Don
            DeLillo’s Libra, does not focus on a fictional version of a real historical figure,
            but rather on a “duplicate.” American Taliban does not rewrite John Walker
            Lindh’s personal history; if anything, John Jude appears as an “enhanced”
            version of Lindh, “cleaned” of some of the “flaws” the mainstream media iden-
            tified as having led to the Californian’s “anti-American” behavior: John Jude’s
            parents, Bill and Barbara Parish, are in a happy, heteronormative marriage; John
            Jude himself is less spiritually inclined and more confident than Lindh is said to
            have been. Moreover, John Walker Lindh is introduced as a different character
            in the later chapters of the novel, allowing for an exploration of how the
            American public perceived him and of the media narratives emerging after
            his capture. Introducing Lindh as a different character enables Abraham to
            refrain from providing a resolution to the story; John Jude Parish remains pris-
            tine and it is up to the reader to decide how his story ends.
               American Taliban’s pre-“/” narrative focusses on John Jude, an eight-
            een-year-old who attempts to negotiate both his own identity and his
            parents’ expectations of him; for example, he rejects the “American Dream”
            doctrine of financial success and the idea of “a life of earning and acquisition,”
            meaning that, to satisfy his parents’ ambitions, he believes that “proof of [his]
            achievement would have to come from the media, with features in newspapers,
            magazines, radio, and television.” Although narrated in the third person,
            John Jude’s story foregrounds his point of view – and it is his conviction
            that his parents see him as the human embodiment of the notion of
            American exceptionalism, since he is expected to be distinctive, unique, and
            exemplary: “what they looked for from their son was originality and intellec-
            tuality and a lifestyle shaped by the liberal humanist ideas in which, as [his
            mother] Barbara liked to point out, he had been immersed from the instant
            of his inception.” John Jude begins to define himself in opposition to

                  Abraham, “The Making of …”.
                  Jarett Kobek, ATTA (South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), ); Don DeLillo, Libra
                  (New York: Viking Press, ).              Abraham, American Taliban, , .
                  Ibid., .

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Reimagining Traitors 
            what he perceives as his parents’ image of him and rejects their secularism,
            which he criticizes as a negative consequence of modernity: “in their
            attempt to grow beyond superstition, in their enlightened embrace of the
            rational, [humans] abandoned knowledge of the extraordinary, the hidden,
            the transcendent, the whatever.”
               Yet these gestures of rebellion quickly dissolve when met by his family’s
            unmitigated support: his parents enthusiastically encourage him to pursue any-
            thing he finds intellectually stimulating and they provide financial backing for
            John Jude’s plans to move away, first to Brooklyn, then to Peshawar. With vir-
            tually no obstacles in his path, the protagonist develops his own fantasy, in
            which he would become what Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence
            call the “superhero” of the “monomyth” prevalent in the American pop
            culture of the late twentieth century, a “supersaviour” replacing a Christ
            figure rendered unconvincing by scientific rationalism. The “superhero’s”
            self-proclaimed role is to return “a hope of divine, redemptive powers” to a
            secular world where faith has been “eroded,” a world which matches John
            Jude’s criticism of his own immediate surroundings. Attracted to knowledge
            and faith in equal measure, but unable to define himself in opposition to a
            fixed Other within the boundaries of an unconditionally accepting commu-
            nity, John Jude commits to a fluid identity and refuses to follow an established
            path: he challenges himself “to remain eternally in process, to forever become
            though he doesn’t yet know what,” and “to pursue only what is of immediate
            personal interest.” He formulates his ethos as “Whitmanian all-embrace. He
            would be all-knowing, omnivorous, omniscient, omnificent.” Through this,
            the interplay between fact or “reality” and fiction (as well as the “slippage”
            from one to another) is established from the beginning as one of American
            Taliban’s key themes.
               There is no moment in the novel representing a more powerful actualiza-
            tion of this blurring of lines between what is “real” and what is imagined
            than the post-“/” scene (set on  December ) in which Barbara
            Parish learns about the capture of an American citizen called John Walker
            Lindh. By this point, John Jude had been missing for months; the scene
            shows his mother reading the front pages of morning newspapers, all featuring
            “an American. Named John. Naked. All bones. And bleeding. But why were
            his hands twisted and bound between his legs?” Barbara is confronted
            with the image of a tortured body, bound, broken and bleeding, which not

                  Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence, The American Monomyth (Garden City, NY:
                                                                 
                  Anchor Press/Doubleday, ), xx.       Ibid.      Abraham, American Taliban, .
                                                                                     
                  Ibid., .                                                              Ibid., .

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 Maria-Irina Popescu
            only embodies the brutality of the state’s response to the  September 
            attacks, but also bears a striking resemblance to her missing son. The visual
            proof that the American state punished one of its own people, and implicitly
            broke the contract between the nation and the state established through the
            discourse of the “Homeland” fantasy, is simply inconceivable for Barbara; a
            nation which perceives itself as traumatized and displaced by foreign attackers,
            as well as completely innocent, could not, Abraham suggests, withstand such a
               Barbara attempts to reconcile this traumatizing realization with the more
            personal tragedy of her missing son by imagining that the “American
            Taliban” the headlines refer to is indeed John Jude, a line of thought inaccess-
            ible to her husband Bill:
                          This isn’t John, he said.
                          Read it, Barbara heaved. It’s John.
                          Yes, but not our John, not John Jude.
                          It could be, she sputtered.
                          But it’s not.
                          It might be.
                          What do you mean? Bill asked. What are you talking about?
            When Barbara insists that the body on the front page “could” or “might”
            belong to John Jude, she reasserts her conviction that the state will not
            protect American citizens, as it promised, and thus her son, and anyone
            else’s child, is in danger of being punished. Through this moment and its nar-
            rative consequences, the novel American Taliban imagines a scenario in which
            the bond between the individual and the state fantasy breaks through the
            intervention of personal tragedy. Although the image of the captured
            “American Taliban” on the front page of newspapers evokes a “real” photo-
            graph taken by military personnel at Camp Rhino, Abraham’s novel
            employs a chronology which deviates from the timeline of historical events:
            not only were the Camp Rhino photographs not taken until  December
            , but they also remained classified until April , when Lindh’s
            lawyers filed a motion for discovery. Such historical inaccuracies are
            woven into the theme of the broken contract between individual and state
            fantasy, destabilizing the novel’s initial claims of faithfully replicating a slice
            of history.
               This unsettling of the timeline embedded in the “official” historical narra-
            tive, and implicitly of the fact–fiction binary, is also apparent in the story of the
            surrender and the uprising of the captured Taliban fighters at the Qala-i-Jangi
            prison. Although the historical narrative places the Taliban fighters’ surrender

                                                        
                  Ibid., –.                               Bakir, Torture, Intelligence and Sousveillance, –.

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